Bites of Swahili dishes on Mombasa streets

Thursday, September 19th, 2019 00:00 |
A chef prepares shawarma for the writer and accompaniments at the Mombasa Food Festival. Photo/PD/BONIFACE MSANGI

I toured the coastal city of Mombasa recently and put up at a friend’s house at Bakarani, Bamburi estate. The family runs a home stay business on the side. 

I had few assignments on my to-do list but as they say, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. At the Coast, it would be a mistake not to mix business with pleasure.

One of the few things I had missed about ‘Costeri’ was mouth-watering dishes and the Mombasa Food Festival presented a great opportunity for gastronomical indulgence.

My host Omari had told me about the magical aphrodisiac powers of supu ya pweza but I was not convinced.

Being a city boy, I believe in chewing mukombero, but the soup enticed me. So on Friday evening after work, Omari had planned a visit to the Jomo Kenyatta Public Beach popularly known as Pirates beach for us.

Here, Mombasa men spend hours chewing miraa in their cars while enjoying the therapeutic breeze. Earlier, he had warned me to eat enough on the beach, as we would be staggering back home at dusk. 

We started with pweza soup near the apartments and he was quick to warn me not to take a lot since I had left my partner in ‘bara’ (upcountry). The soup was spiced with some herbs and black pepper and served hot in a bowl.

We then drove to a famous food joint, Jicho Boy Cafeteria, my mouth wet with appetite. Being a Maasai, nothing excites my culinary senses more than the sight of meat! 

Omari knows me well, so he decided to take control of our order. Shawarma, Mshikaki, chicken cutlets, bhajia, viazi karai, roast chicken rubbed with all manner of spices, to be washed down by a glass of Tamarind or Ukwaju juice.

After an hour of a heavy engagement with the cutlery in front of me, I was a satisfied man ready for the night rover...

The next day, we left early in the afternoon for Mombasa’s Pavilion with empty stomachs since we knew we were in for a feast. I was also to hook up with the Mombasa Food Festival organiser, Joseph Mandela, whom, I found chatting with a group of volunteers from Red Splash. 

 Blood donation

 This organisation was there to remind people of the importance of blood donation, types of food to eat to boost blood volumes and raise awareness on the importance of knowing one’s blood group. 

“The festival is an annual event that is all about supporting and cultivating what makes Mombasa and its surrounding regions a gastronomic playground.

We invite various food vendors to show their best delicacies and for people to have a social event with value addition to the economy directly,” Mandela said.

Food festival

The event started as a street food festival three years ago to not only fill a gap in the scene, but also create a platform to work with and support local food- related business. 

“Our aim is to market the county and showcase what it has to offer. Tourism is the biggest earning engagement for most people here and our Swahili foods are one of the attractions,” he said, adding that the experience so far has been great, with the numbers of visitors increasing annually and more businesses wanting to partner in the festival. 

Mandela said the festival has been self-sponsored with a little help from families and friends. “With enough financial support, we can actually do great things,” he added.

As dusk approached, Eric “Mgenge” Gates’ voice boomed on the speakers, inviting people to the dance floor. Jambo Africa Band was belting popular cover songs. And so the night began…

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